Heartbeat

On Friday, for the first time in the last five and a half harrowing years of infertility, I saw and heard the beating heart of my growing child. No matter the outcome of the next 33 weeks, that swish and flicker is cemented on my own heart.

The whole of last week my brain felt like it was on fire. As much as I was genuinely trying to visualize the outcome I want to see, I couldn’t push away the intense anxiety leading up to the first ultrasound. I’m not being dramatic in saying that it was one of the worst weeks of my life. Every tiny pinch or twinge or pseudo-pain my brain told me, this is it, you’re miscarrying. This is happening again. There’s, unfortunately, nowhere to hide from the negative thoughts in your own brain.

I don’t want this post to be overrun with my anxiety, but I write this to say to anyone else out there in a similar position: I hear you. It is so terrifying to wait while you feel like your mind in running full speed toward a cliff.

On the drive to the clinic, I was, as always, looking for signs, wearing my magic bracelet. Anything to help prepare me for what was to come. The previous night I’d had only bad dreams. I’d texted my best friend that I was sure it was my subconscious telling me it wasn’t going to be okay. She replied, “NOT THIS TIME.” I wanted to believe her. Then, on the radio in the car played the song that I walked down the aisle to at my wedding. It was the first time in at least a week I felt like there wasn’t a boulder resting on my chest.

Fast forward to the exam room. My husband and I didn’t really look at each other while we waited. I don’t think we could. I closed my eyes and silently asked all of the people in my life that I’ve loved who are now gone for this to be okay. Please, let this be okay.

When my doctor and the greatest nurse on the planet entered, the tension was palpable. My doctor asked how I was feeling and I eeked out something to the effect of, “I’m really scared.” He nodded, in his warm way, and said, “I’m terrified.” That actually gave me a lot of comfort. He’s so invested in our outcome.

It didn’t take very long after he’d started the ultrasound for me to see the flicker. I said, quietly, “… is that…?” And he nodded with a huge smile. Then all the tears. I reached for my husband’s hand. I looked at him, and he started to cry, too.

Again, I’ll pause my touching story (ahem) to say here that infertility is incredibly hard on relationships. All relationships, but particularly marriages (or partnerships). Sometimes you feel miles apart in the same room. This moment, watching my Alpha Male ex-cop shows no emotion husband cry at the sight of the ultrasound screen allowed me to reconnect with him, and our passion to have a child. I’m so grateful we could share this.

By this time the greatest nurse on the planet was also openly crying. My doc definitely had tears in his eyes, too. Then he turned on the sound and the swishing of the heartbeat brought on another wave of tears.

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5BB is doing great right now. Heartbeat very strong at 123bpm. Measuring (then) at 6 weeks, 4 days, just one day behind my transfer timeline. All signs are positive. My husband has nicknamed the embaby Little Wookiee.

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The adventures of 5BB and the magic bracelet

On the morning of my embryo transfer with 5BB, I was anxious. We’d done this very quiet drive to the clinic three times before, each with a disappointing outcome.

I was looking for meaning in everything that day. Signs. As I do. Shortly after my husband turned on the radio in the car, a cherished song from my young adulthood came on. This song, “Call Me Al,” by Paul Simon, played before every performance I did with my musical theater group in high school. It was our hype song. Good start, universe.

During the transfer, I wore the magic bracelet. My high school best friend sent it to me earlier this year when she heard about my IVF experiences. It’s my favorite color, and reads “Warrior.” Attached to that bracelet is a Greek lucky eye that another friend gave me. I’ve worn that bracelet starting with this second egg retrieval and every important appointment since. A close friend of mine who is also going through IVF has borrowed it for each of her appointments, too. We’ve both had positive outcomes so far, thus dubbing it the magic bracelet.

On the ride home, with 5BB in place, the radio played “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” by Guns n’ Roses. I just stared at my husband like, are you hearing this right now?! The sign wasn’t even lost on him (and he often thinks my “signs” are signs of insanity). Thanks for the encouragement, universe. I needed it.

I spent the rest of the day trying to stay relaxed. I snuggled with our dog. I probably binge-watched something on Netflix, as I’m also known to do.

That evening, we ordered pizza for dinner. Comfort food is the best, isn’t it? When I answered the door for the pizza, the delivery person was very visibly pregnant. Because of course she was.

All of this leads me to later this week when we find out if little 5BB will surpass my previous embabies with a detectable heartbeat.

I’ve had moments in the last two or so weeks since the positive pregnancy test (beta) when I’ve felt excited. And nauseous. And tired. And a lot of the time when, in my gut, this time feels different.

Plenty of other times, of course, I just expect bad news.

I wish I knew what I’d see on the ultrasound later this week. I wish I could prepare for it. The idea that I can reach the six-week (and change) ultrasound and not have my hopes devastated is so foreign to me. But this time could be different. 

Ninth (long sigh) time’s a charm? Another TWW

Embryo 5BB is in and we’re in the dreaded two week wait. When I realized this was our ninth medically-assisted attempt to get pregnant I felt pretty deflated. We’re so far down this road.

Then I started to feel the twinges. Of implantation? Could be! My boobs are sore. Because 5BB is settling in? Perhaps! My lunch is feeling far from appetizing? Maybe yay!

I’m cautiously optimistic. 

I’ve said that before.

Infertility is such a mindfuck.

When your anxiety is as high as your estrogen

My husband called it “estroxiety.”

It is transfer week, which means it is crawllllling by at a snail’s pace. Aside from the side effects of my BFF Estrace — of which I have many — my mental health feels a bit like a teeter-totter. One moment: OMG I AM SO EXCITED THIS IS GOING TO FINALLY WORK ALL CAPS EVERYWHERE! The next:

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Actual footage of me?

Don’t get me wrong, not going into an embryo transfer blindly for once is a welcome change. I know my doctor (well, actually, not my Peyton Manning doctor because he will be on vacation) will place little PGS-normal 5BB in my now-optimized for receptivity uterus. Because my ERA test revealed that my lining is 12-hours pre-receptive, we’ve moved my PIO shots to the mornings, giving me an extra dose before the actual transfer. The same biopsy revealed no recurrence of endometritis either. So, basically, my uterus is as ready to grow a baby as it probably ever has been. I’m set up for success. Even my clinic’s internal stats on a a PGS-normal resulting in pregnancy and a live birth are killer.

And yet, the pressure is getting to me. My stomach is doing flip-flops. I’m not falling asleep easily and sleeping fitfully. My brain keeps telling me that normal embryos fail all the time. I’ve had anxiety before transfers in the past, but this is so heightened. I’m so hyper-aware that it could be successful and that’s just not my normal. I’ve had nothing but failure to point to; I’ve settled in and stayed awhile. As miserable as infertility makes me, it is my normal. I’m not resigned to it, but it is always there. It’s been the focus of my life for more than five years and it has become my every day. Popping Estrace pills morning, noon and night; the sore injection sites from the PIO; lying back and putting my feet in the stirrups for internal ultrasounds every few days. This is my life. It sucks so much, but there’s something that has become so comfortable, too.

Like many Type-A people, if I’m not good at something almost immediately I tend not to like it very much. I despise mediocrity in myself. When I was eight years old I played the saxophone for a little under a year. I was pretty terrible, and I quit because I knew I wouldn’t ever be first (or even second) chair in the elementary school band. Instead I did something I was much better at (cheerleading [current me still doesn’t fully comprehend how I was a cheerleader my entire childhood]), and spent the next 10 years engrossed in that. Captaining teams, winning an award or two and being pretty good at something like the Type-A in me wanted.

Somehow, I’ve never quit this. I’ve pushed through even though I am clearly terrible at creating babies. Infertility has taught me an awful lot about failure. And, in turn, resilience. It has absolutely shaped who I am as a 36-year-old woman.

With success as close as it has probably ever been, it is out of my hands now (and soon to be in my uterus). I have, officially, all the feels.

Also, f#*k you, Estrace.

Infertility grief

And then there were two: PGS results

After the cliffhanger of my last post, I’ll go ahead and immediately spoil the ending of this one with the title. We have two PGS-normal embryos.

TWO. NORMAL. EMBRYOS.

I felt a little like this:

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Okay, rewind… As of day 3, I had 14. I knew well enough to know that over the next two and three days, the lab would see a drop-off of at least half, and I was fine with that. The entire goal of Stim Part Deux: Electric Boogaloo was quality over quantity. Quantity, in my previous experience, hasn’t made a damn bit of difference for me. Five of my six embryos from my first stim cycle didn’t stick, and Kristoff, the lone embryo still frozen, had the lowest grading of that pack. The odds weren’t in his favor.

Quality, of course, is much harder to measure. I’d done the work I could do to potentially improve the quality of my much-older-than-my-age-and-AMH eggs by losing 35 pounds. But, other than feeling better than I had in a long time, I didn’t know if that would prove fruitful fertility-wise.

When day 5 arrived I think I stared at my phone all day. For previous updates the lab had emailed me in the morning, so by lunchtime I was a ball of anxiety. Did this mean none had progressed? Was the news so bad that the lab would have my doctor break it to me? What day is it? Do I still remember how to count to five? By 3:00, I simply couldn’t stand it anymore and emailed the greatest nurse on the planet. Hey if you could just do me a solid and walk down the hall to the lab… She was like calm down, crazy, since you’re doing PGS the lab will wait until tomorrow to give you the final results of how many made it to blastocyst to be biopsied.

“However, you have 2 for biopsy today 🙂 And likely many more for tomorrow. Yay!!!!”

There was crying.

Day 6 went by so damn slowly. But then the email came…

Five.

Plus, Kristoff had survived the thaw for biopsy and continued to develop.

Even more crying. So much crying that my husband only understood every seven words that I said on the phone when I called with the news.

Six embryos held all of my hopes and dreams: 5BB, 5BB, 6AA, 5AA, 5CB and 5BC. No pressure, kids, but my entire future is riding on you…

The nine days between hearing that number from the lab and getting the call from the greatest nurse on the planet with our PGS results were absolutely on-par with the two-week wait. I did my best to stay busy and keep my mind occupied, but if I’m being real those results were the only thing of substance I could think about.

On the afternoon when my nurse called, she admitted she was very scared to tell me there were two normal embryos. Two of six is a poor ratio, all things considered. But as soon as she said two, everything else fell away. I’d save the questions about the others for another day. When you’re terrified that you’re going to hear zero, two sounds like a million. I was so unbelievably grateful for two.

Lots more crying. All the crying.

So here we are… Two. It’s my new favorite number.

Ps… Kristoff wasn’t one of the normals. And she’s actually a Kristoffina.

34 Farm-fresh eggs

I am, once again, a human farm animal. Such is #IVFlife.

And as I suspected, each stim cycle is a little bit different.  To recap: During my first, in June 2016, the doctors retrieved 23 mature eggs, which resulted in six embryos making it to blastocyst stage. While the meds no doubt kicked my ass then, the much more (physically) unpleasant experience came following my egg retrieval.

I’ll get to the good stuff straight-away, I know that’s what you’re here for… Somehow my doctor managed to find 34 eggs in my swollen stomach. As I was coming out of my anesthesia following the procedure, the greatest nurse on the planet popped her head in to say, “34,” with her big, bright smile. If I didn’t actually ask her at the time, I certainly wanted to say, geez, are you sure they were all mine? They claim they are. Thirty-four was more than my brain could actually process in the moment. Then she said something that I will stick with me, and will be a key piece of the story I tell my daughter or son about how they came into our family…

“One of those eggs is your baby.”

She said it with such hope and conviction that my heart swelled to match my enormous ovaries and I felt so strongly that she was going to be right.

“One of those eggs is your baby.”

To every woman who has felt beaten and broken by infertility, I wish you a moment just like this. I felt renewed and ready. I’ve been so careful not to ever really let myself believe this could still be possible in case it wasn’t. In that moment I let go of so much negativity, and let those words sink in.

Of those 34 eggs retrieved, 21 were mature. I did find it pretty surprising (and encouraging) that it was only two fewer than my first cycle, when I was the better part of two years younger. Physically the process of stimming felt much more intense this time than I remembered, and I again went for the full 12 nights. Perhaps it was because I knew this would be my last time, but I was feeling SO done before I’d even gotten to the trigger shot. The bloat and the fatigue felt especially powerful in the last few days of injections. And I was a straight-up nightmare emotionally-speaking.

Despite the more intense stim (guess that meant it I was firing on all cylinders?), the retrieval recovery was a breeze compared to my Dark Willow situation last time.

When the lab reported that 21 eggs were mature, they relayed that 14 of those had fertilized. This was virtually the same ratio as my previous IVF cycle, and I felt fine with that and eager to see how many of those would progress.

On day three, I waited for news from the lab. And it was good… ALL 14 embryos were developing! I read the message a few times, and then squealed and cried. Things hadn’t gone down this way before. To still have all of them thriving on day three? It was the injection (ha!) of encouragement we needed.

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I agree, Ron. Stay tuned…